Ever have one of those days when nothing seemed to go according to your plan?
It’s rather a common condition, wouldn’t you say?
In some cases – an illness, for example…or a death in the family – there’s simply no debate about what takes priority, real life or the conference call you had booked on the calendar.
Other times, it’s less clear whether the disruption should be welcomed with equanimity – say, when a client’s dysfunctional nature suddenly heaves an all-consuming imposition on an otherwise fully scheduled work day.
In the gospel readings this weekend, we get a glimpse into how Jesus handled such situations. On Saturday, we hear how the Teacher and the apostles (fresh back from an exhausting mission trip) are thwarted in their efforts to rest and recollect.
‘They went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place,’ Mark tells us. Alas, ‘people saw them leaving and many came to know about it. They hastened there on foot from all the towns and arrived at the place before them.’
In this case, we learn that Jesus changed his plans.
‘When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.’
In Sunday’s gospel reading, things turn out a bit differently. Mark tells us how Jesus, having spent the day in Simon Peter’s home town (and having worked many mighty deeds there), sets things up for a little business trip.
‘Rising very early before dawn, [Jesus] left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, “Everyone is looking for you.” He told them, “Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee.’
So in this instance, apparently, Jesus sticks to the plan – even though the needs of the crowd around him are seemingly just as pressing.
What intrigues me about the story, though, is the reason Jesus gives for the decision: ‘For this purpose have I come.’ Indeed, there’s evidence throughout the early sections of Mark’s gospel that Jesus saw his ministry in just this light—that of an itinerant preacher (and healer); and leader of a band of missionaries commissioned to share the good news.
That was the plan, at least at this point in Jesus’ life.
And you get the sense that at least a remnant of the plan remained in Jesus’ heart right until the end: ‘…but not what I will, but what you will’ he says in his prayer at Gethsemane, just a few hours before taking up the cross.
Oddly, I find a bit of consolation in Jesus’ whisper of reluctance. I know all too well how resistant I can be to disruptions in my plans – even when the situations are clearly invitations for me to be a bearer of the Good News.
It’s true: God asks a lot of us at times. God might even suggest that we lay aside our best-laid plans – knowing full well how painful it might be. But perhaps one fruit of the spiritual journey is to recognize that God asks nothing more of us…than what God asked of Jesus himself, the Beloved One.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.